Never underestimate the power of a good night’s sleep. It helps your brain to work better, lifts happiness levels, irons out wrinkles and improves your skin colour. If you can get seven to eight hours of shuteye every night, you’re succeeding with a basic health requirement that many people find almost unattainable these days.
Children are so good at sleeping. They fall asleep at night and wake up in the morning, untroubled by the middle-of-the-night ‘monkey mind’ that messes with adults’ sleep patterns. If only we could all recapture the simplicity and serenity of our childhood night-time habits!
Instead, many of us compromise our sleep time by staying up too late, peering at electronic screens that interfere with melatonin release and worrying about all manner of things at 3am. If that sounds like you, making sleep your new best friend could have a profound effect on the health and appearance of your skin.
Beauty sleep is very real. It only takes a couple of bad nights (i.e. ugly sleep) to make you look older, sadder, more wrinkled and generally worn out.
Recently, some university researchers put the beauty sleep promise to the test. They asked a group of university students to get a good night’s sleep for two consecutive nights, followed by a bad night’s sleep (less than four hours) for two consecutive nights. Photographs taken after each session were shown to strangers, who then rated the images on attractiveness, health and trustworthiness. You can guess the outcome. Photos taken after the good sleep session were ranked significantly higher for every metric. 
Inspired by this finding, we did a bit of our own research to find out what actually happens to your skin at night. Here’s what’s going on while you’re catching some zeds:
- Skin cells regenerate
Skin cells go into makeover mode while you’re sleeping. Some studies suggest that most of this magic happens between 11pm and midnight, when cell mitosis (cell division for renewal and repair) is at its peak. While you’re sleeping, blood flow to the skin increases, collagen is rebuilt and damage from UV exposure is repaired (as much as it can be).
- Growth hormone surges
During deep sleep, a surge of human growth hormone (HGH) contributes to maintaining the collagen matrix of your skin. This naturally-occurring hormone is responsible for the appearance of youthfulness. With age, the amount of HGH produced by your body declines. However, there are various strategies you can try if you want to increase the amount of HGH your body produces at night. These include losing body fat, fasting, taking an arginine supplement, reducing your sugar intake and high-intensity exercise (like interval training or HIIT).
- Inflammation reduces
While you’re sleeping, your immune system releases cytokines, which fight inflammation. This is one of the reasons redness from acne and eczema fades away while you’re sleeping.
What can you do to optimise your skin’s nightlife?
To support all the great things that are going on with your skin at night, we recommend you adopt some new good habits. By setting the scene for beauty sleep, you’ll be pleasantly surprised when you look in the mirror next morning.
- Double cleanse to ensure your skin is free from excess sebum, old makeup, perspiration and pollutants that have landed on your skin during the day.
- Use an appropriate night cream, which is thicker and richer than a daytime moisturiser. It will give your skin’s repair processes a head start with a layer of valuable nutrients.
- Sleep on a clean pillow slip. You can even use a special satin or silk pillowcase to minimise skin irritation and creasing.
- Elevate your head. It helps to prevent snoring, acid reflux and nasal drip. It may also prevent under-eye bags. If your pillow is too flat, add another or change it for a higher pillow.
- Keep a glass of water by your bedside and have a drink if you wake in the night. Down the rest of your water when you wake up in the morning.
Tips for getting a better night’s sleep
If you struggle with insomnia from time to time, there are a number of natural remedies you can try – and we’re not talking about herbal potions and pills. Insomnia is often caused by stress, anxiety and trauma, which are mental states that demand a mental health approach. The trick with falling asleep and staying asleep is to calm your mind, so that sleep can come to you. There are various ways to do this:
- Tension body scan ‑ squeeze and relax each muscle in your body, starting at your toes and working all the way up to your forehead.
- Complicated breathing – inhale as much as you can, then take one more sip of air. Exhale slowly until your lungs are completely empty. Repeat until you fall asleep.
- Roll your eyes backwards – this simulates what happens to your eyes when you fall asleep. Lie still with your eyes shut and try to ‘see’ through the top of your head. Doing this a number of times helps you to relax.
- Listen to a bedtime story – there are heaps of bedtime podcasts and apps that tell long, boring stories that put you to sleep. One we love is ‘Nothing much happens’ on Spotify.
- If you sleep alone, trying humming a repetitive little tune – it’s a meditation practice that creates relaxing vibrations. Buddhist monks use humming to find enlightenment.
- Visualise yourself in a relaxing place – on a beach, in a forest or swinging in a hammock under some palm trees. Think about how it feels, smells and sounds.
Check out Okana’s Night Ritual for beautiful skin.